At the beginning of September, I shuffled off to Buffalo to visit my grandmothers, old friends and other assorted family members. I had a variety of adventures, including touring City Hall, re-visiting Old Fort Niagara (hadn’t been there since 4th grade) and ghost hunting at one of the most haunted sites in the country, Rolling Hills Asylum. We’ll start with Buffalo’s beautiful Art Deco masterpiece, City Hall. Though I have been inside several times, this was the first official tour I’d ever had. I forced my grandmother to come with me. The free tour was through Preservation Buffalo and was packed with people visiting from all over the country and abroad. There were at least 2o people in the group, and we were some of the only “locals.”
Here’s an excellent video from Buffalo Tours giving you a better sense of the history than I could ever give about the building:
Getting older, man. It makes you appreciate the places you’re from. I used to watch concerts on Thursday afternoons in the shadow of this building. Hell, I saw Echo & The Bunnymen in the square, 10,000 Maniacs…
What I appreciate most about City Hall is its steadfast refusal to let history be forgotten. Every decorative element of the building recognizes the contributions of its citizens and their dedication to labor and industry. Engineering, industry, agriculture, and academic, scholarly pursuits are all depicted in stonework and murals throughout the building.
The tile mosaic patterns on the arched ceiling are symbolic of the Iroquois Nation, which shared the shores of Lake Eerie and Ontario.
William de Leftwich Dodge, an accomplished muralist, painted several murals in City Hall in 1931. This one depicts the relationship of Buffalo to nearby Canada. Here’s a great (old) website that goes into the details of each of Dodge’s murals. Truly fascinating. Unfortunately, they were lit exceedingly poorly as the city does not have its own City Hall on a preservation plan.
This plaque is dedicated to fallen Polish Soldiers, reading, “This plaque was presented to the people of the City of Buffalo by the Polish American Citizens Organization in memory of their fellow brothers – prisoners of war – massacred by Soviet Russia in Katyn Forest in the Spring of 1940.”
Four statues in the lobby represent the characters of good citizenship– virtue, diligence, service and fidelity. These are absolutely stunning and dramatically lit from below, casting judicious shadows.
A bust of Grover Cleveland, who first served as Buffalo City Mayor before being elected President several years later.
Gorgeous, intricate brass work on the elevators in the lobby.
Apparently my Great Grandfather worked for Otis Elevators– my grandma was excited to see this detail in this restored car.
Next stop was the Mayor’s office, which felt rather cool and not very well decorated. Apparently, the current Mayor loves aquariums, so he had one installed in the office.
On the thirteenth floor, we came to the gorgeous Council Chamber. Using an Iroquois design, a stunning stained glass sunburst dominates the room, diffusing the light, acting as a blessing but also a reminder that business conducted in this room is under the watchful gaze of the heavens and all eternity. Below the sunburst, carved into the wall, the phrase “The People’s Councilors Reflect the People’s Will” appears as a daily reminder to those who enter the chamber of their purpose. The woodwork is inlaid with walnut and carved symbols of wildlife decorate doors and paneling. Pillars surrounding the chamber list the characteristics needed in ethical government fortitude, philosophy, knowledge, industry, achievement, charity, patriotism, prudence, wisdom, and concordia. Apparently, this is one of the finest city council chambers in the United States, so acoustically balanced that microphones are unnecessary.
At the top of City Hall is the observation deck, boasting one of the best views of the city skyline, as well as the shipyards and Great Lakes. Unfortunately, it was pouring when I visited, so I didn’t get the majestic panoramas I had hoped for.
This kind of history is truly lacking on the West Coast, this certain kind of blue collar industrious nature and fortitude. It makes me miss Buffalo, snow and all.